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October 7, 2015

Ask Mo: Answering Your Queries on 'Caprica,' 'Chuck,' 'Walking Dead' and More

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 2nd 2010 6:20PM
From Harvey: I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about 'Caprica' and the way the cancellation was handled. I can't remember ever being this [angry at] a network and I don't know if there's any point to even trying to save the show or if I should just move onto the boycott idea. ...Basically, what I'm asking is, do you think that there is any good will left at Syfy to wrap up the story (because we know that the season ends with a cliffhanger)?

Mo says: I got a lot of questions and tweets about 'Caprica' during the past week, some of which contained a certain amount of strong language.

I get it: I understand that it hurts when a show you really like gets canceled, and it's very rare for a cable show to get pulled from the schedule before it completes airing the episodes in its current season. I'm sure that for 'Caprica' fans, the sudden yanking of the show adds to the sting.

Having said that, I'm not sure what Syfy was supposed to have done, given 'Caprica's' abysmal ratings. It may have been better for Syfy to refrain from dividing up season 1 episodes into two chunks, but that strategy has worked fine for any number of other shows. Again, it's not a gambit I'm particularly fond of, but if the audience is there, they'll find the show.

And sure, it would have been nice if all the episodes had aired, there's no question about that. But some shows go off the air and the remaining episodes go into a vault and are never seen again. At least hardcore 'Caprica' fans can get those episodes on DVD (and the network did say in a statement that those unaired episodes would air some time next year). Cold comfort, I'm sure, but it's better than never seeing those episodes.

The unfortunate fact is, the tiny audience for 'Caprica' did not make a second season financially viable. Apparently there are cliffhangers at the end of the show's first season, but many shows have gone off the air with plot threads unresolved. It is, sadly, how the TV business works sometimes. I'm betting fans of 'Lone Star' would have counted themselves lucky to get more than a dozen hours of that show before it got axed.

Several people asked whether I thought 'Caprica' would get a wrap-up movie. I have no knowledge of what Syfy executives are thinking on that score, but I'd speculate that they don't see a pressing need to spend more money on a project that didn't do well for them.

My two cents: I think 'Caprica' had a ton of potential and I'm sorry that potential was never fully realized over the course of the 14 hours that aired on Syfy. I truly hoped the show would overcome the problems that had hobbled it in the first half of its season, but the first two episodes of the second half of season 1 did not allay my concerns.

Though I'm able to let go of 'Caprica' much more easily than fans of the show, I've been there. I've been very disappointed in the untimely ends of shows I loved (HBO executives promised 'Deadwood' wrap-up movies long after the show ended. That was unwise and only made the death of a great show even more difficult to accept). It's a general hazard of watching and loving TV -- sometimes we get kicked in the teeth.

From The Hoobie: I was wondering if you had any thoughts on whether 'The Walking Dead's' staggering premiere ratings could help 'Rubicon' get renewed or could hurt its case. It's always hard to mind-read a TV network, but do you think after its monster hit, AMC will be more willing to sustain a struggling show or less willing?

Mo says: I'm torn, but I'm leaning toward the latter answer. I'd like to think that the success of 'The Walking Dead' would make AMC feel expansive and perhaps more likely to cater to the passionate (if small) 'Rubicon' audience. But the fact is, the success of 'The Walking Dead' may tell AMC that it should investigate certain kinds of genre projects in future, not try to sustain a ratings-challenged show with an audience that was unlikely to grow. Ryan McGee and I talked about this more in the first 20 minutes of the most recent 'Talking TV' podcast; check that out for more on this topic.

From MsShelley02: When will Olivia finally come home on 'Fringe'?

Mo says: I can't answer that specifically, but I spoke to 'Fringe' executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman recently, and they spoke at length about where the next set of episodes will go. Please stop back here Thursday for much more 'Fringe' intel!

From Keith Wayne Smith: On 'Boardwalk Empire,' why is the prohibition officer in the post office?

Mo says: It's the only Federal building in town, so Agent Van Alden and his partner have taken temporary space there during their investigation of the city.

A few queries from Keith Evans:

1. Please say it ain't so: Is 'Nikita' is up for cancellation? My wife and I love the show.

2. Is 'Detroit 1-8-7' in peril?

3. When is 'The Cape' coming on!? Tired of waiting through all this dreck.

4. What are your thoughts on 'Undercovers'? Again, it's one of the "family time" shows [for my wife and me], plus it has African-Americans leads and we like to joke that they are us.

Mo says: Here are your answers, in rapid-fire fashion:

1. The CW gave 'Nikita' a full-season order, for a total of 22 episodes. It appears to be doing just fine.

2. Things don't look great for 'Detroit 1-8-7.' The most recent Renew/Cancel Index on TV By the Numbers predicted that the show would likely be canceled.

3. No idea on 'The Cape': NBC has it slotted in at 'mid-season,' which could mean anywhere from January to March or beyond.

4. I've seen a few episodes of 'Undercovers' and despite the fact that the cast is very appealing, the storytelling and characterizations left a lot to be desired. It's been disappointing in any number of ways. I certainly had hoped for more substance and spark from a project in which J.J. Abrams was involved.

From Billy Somerville: What are your top five British TV shows?

Mo says: I know I'm forgetting some great shows, but here's my Brit-TV Top 5, off the top of my head: 'Doctor Who' [old-school and new school], 'State of Play' [2003 miniseries], 'Brideshead Revisited,' 'The Office' [UK], 'Prime Suspect.' I have to mention one more: 'Pride and Prejudice' [1995 miniseries] -- I'm a sucker for a really good costume dramas, especially when Jane Austen's novels are involved. [Edited to add : 'Monty Python's Flying Circus.' This list is like the TARDIS -- bigger on the inside than it first appears.]

From Kimmer: If you could offer one piece of advice to a new showrunner, what would it be?

Mo says: As tempted as I am to say, "Don't give Mo Ryan an aneurysm," I'll try to make my reply a little more broad than that.

My chief advice would be: Be passionate about the story you are telling. If you're not excited by it, chances are nobody else will be.

From Long Hong: Given that 'Chuck's' ratings numbers are still stable compared to other new NBC dramas, I want to believe that there [could be] one more season of 'Chuck'. If 'Chuck' were to get one more season, where do you think the show should stop? Is 'Chuck' sustainable for more than five seasons?

Mo says: I'm a fan of 'Chuck,' obviously, but I am not sure I necessarily want it to continue beyond four seasons (as you no doubt know, NBC has ordered a total of 24 episodes for the show's fourth season). I'm approaching season 4 as if it's likely to be the show's last.

From a practical standpoint for the network, the audience for 'Chuck' is loyal, to be sure, but it's not very big, and each year, the running costs of a television show increase. It might not make economic sense for the show to continue past season 4.

On a creative level, when 'Chuck' is firing on all cylinders, I absolutely adore its mixture of humor, heart and nerdtastic action. But when the show isn't at its best, it can be quite frustrating, as we learned last season. And now, even though Chuck and Sarah are together, some weeks 'Chuck' insists of amping up the problematic aspects of that relationship rather than just letting us enjoy the ride and the lack of will-they-or-won't-they angst. In some episodes, the action, the plotting and the Buy Morian antics are inspired; other weeks, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan and I'll continue to watch 'Chuck' until the show reaches the end of the road, whenever that is. If it were to get a fifth season, I wouldn't be upset about that in the slightest, unless I began to think the show was really running out of gas toward the end of season 4.

But at this stage, I'm just enjoying the Mama Bartowski story, enjoying the oustanding cast, and delighting in what the show does well when it's really cooking. I'm not worrying too much about whether it has a future beyond next spring. And if it did end next spring, well, I'll count myself lucky to have witnessed a frequently enjoyable four-season run.

From Chris: What are you top five scripted TV shows of all time?

Mo says: Are you trying to kill me? Even asking me for my top 20 would melt my brain. I can't restrict myself to five. Pass!

From Sanford Sklansky: I was wondering if ABC Family is going to finish showing 'Friday Night Lights.' We were around the sixth episode and they just took it off the air.

Mo says: I'm afraid ABC Family found that 'FNL' reruns didn't perform well for them; the show is gone from that network, presumably for good. I'd recommend catching up with this very fine show via DVD.

From Jon Delfin: Why is there no outrage at BBC America for the way they chop chunks out of U.K. shows for U.S. airing? With the exception of 'Luther' and some (not all) episodes of 'Doctor Who,' we miss as much as 20 percent of the programs. Are we just supposed to be grateful for the leavings we get?

Mo says: There isn't more outrage because a relatively small number of people watch BBC America, and, of those who watch its shows, only a few are even aware that U.K. programs are cut to fit U.S. running times. It's unfortunate, but I'm certainly glad the network had the sense not to trim 'Luther.' That would have been disastrous. As for the cuts made to other shows, we can certainly lament that they occur, even as we acknowledge that our irritation will have zero effect on those who decide the shows need whacking. (Jon also noted that PBS has made some cuts to 'Sherlock,' which I hadn't been aware of. That's a shame but I am enjoying 'Sherlock' quite a bit in any event.)

From Adam Mehr: My question concerns checking back into shows after you have given up on them for whatever reasons. I was thinking about this subject the other day as I found repeats of both 'Ugly Betty' and 'Grey's Anatomy' on the tube. I was a huge fan of both in their first couple seasons, but I wrote off Ugly Betty somewhere in its third season as I found myself bored and not really enjoying that hour of TV anymore. However, I read from some TV critics and bloggers that the show really found its footing again in its fourth season, and I am so glad I checked back in because they were some of the most enjoyable hours of TV that I watched last year.

As for 'Grey's Anatomy,' I checked out during its fourth season as the show annoyed me for often than not. I have not jumped back into my old weekly 'Grey's Anatomy' viewing habit, as the show still can be frustratingly irritating, but every now and again, the show hits all the right notes, and I find myself very compelled and emotionally engaged.

Anyway, are there any shows you rediscovered and came to fully appreciate them again? Do you ever feel inclined to write about a show like 'Ugly Betty' or 'Grey's Anatomy' if it has a somewhat powerful episode? Or in some cases, is there too much damage to be undone (i.e. 'Nip/Tuck')?

Mo says: A great question. When it comes to eliminating a show's Season Pass on my TiVo, I rely on something I call The Ratio. That refers to the ratio of good episodes to bad, repetitive or otherwise frustrating episodes. When the ratio dips below a certain point -- say, a third or more of the episodes are very irritating in some way or another -- I generally check out.

Once I check out, it's very hard for me to check back in. This job involves ongoing triage -- there are always new shows I'm trying to add to my weekly viewing roster. If a show is not cutting it enough of the time, it will have to make way for something newer or that has more potential. And if I miss a season or two of a show, I generally don't jump back on board fully, though I may catch an episode here or there.

With shows that I used to really like, such as 'Grey's' or, when it was on, 'Ugly Betty,' I generally try to check back in once in a while, just to see where things stand and see whether I have the same set of likes and dislikes that caused me to drop the show in the first place. I don't tend to write about those drop-in visits; I'm not sure the thoughts of someone who hasn't been following a show closely are all that useful to more committed fans of a program.

And as I said, once I drop a show, it stays mostly dropped, though the length that I'll stick with a show varies. I tried so long, with so little reward, to stick with 'Heroes.' Out of respect for its great past, I'm trying to stay with 'The Office,' though it dipped under The Ratio some time ago. Stupidly, I got sucked into 'Nip/Tuck' for the first parts seasons 4 and 5, because creator Ryan Murphy cannily started those seasons with episodes that almost had me convinced that he cared about the characters and the audience, not just tiresome, self-indulgent, 'can you top this' stunts. I was wrong, every time. My bad.

From Alison: There seem to be thousands of aspiring actors in Hollywood, but we see the same ones pop up across shows all the time. Is that because 95 percent of the aspiring actors are no good, or because of the way the industry works?

Mo says: I imagine there are some politics involved -- connections and all that -- but generally speaking, the same actors appear again and again because producers, executives and casting agents know that the actor in question can deliver the goods on a consistent basis (if they're a nice person too, that doesn't hurt). There's a ton of fear, if not panic, involved in the creation of TV shows, which are multi-million dollar enterprises. If an actor is known for being reliable and doing good work no matter what the pressures, that actor will get hired again and again, even if some of their past projects weren't that great. There's just a security factor in knowing an actor has appeared on a show before and has been reliably good.

This isn't a question, but Carl Brand had some inspired contributions to a question that Ryan and I discussed on the most recent 'Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan' podcast.

The question: If you could take any character on any show and put them in another show just for fun, who would it be?

Here are Carl's answers:

• Walter Bishop from 'Fringe' on 'Iron Chef.' Both shows have a manic lab feel to me and Walter Bishop on anything would be a home run.

• Michael Scott from 'The Office' taking the Donald Trump role on 'The Apprentice.' Maybe rename it 'The Temp'?

• Bunk and Lester Freeman from 'The Wire' on 'Cougar Town' as they all like to imbibe.

From Vana1970: What do you do to relax when you have to watch TV for a living?

Mo says: Thanks for asking! If there's anything I've learned from this job, it's that I need to take breaks from it in order to avoid feeling burned out. TV is a lot of fun to write about, but there's also a lot of TV coming at you all the time, and it's easy to feel like you're constantly behind the eight ball.

I do the normal things that most people do in their free time -- I read as much as I can, hang out with my family, travel and try to take time off with no computer access (at least one week of the year, I need to be unhooked from wifi. Surprisingly, sedatives and/or restraints are not involved). I also garden a lot in the spring and summer, and I really enjoy what I call my "art therapy" -- making gifts and objects that I generally give away as presents (I recently learned book-binding. This will be a great job skill for the future, I'm sure!). With gardening and other artistically inclined pursuits, I get to stop thinking in words and start thinking in images, which is incredibly relaxing and helps recharge my batteries. And it doesn't involve sitting in front of a glowing box, which is a nice change of pace.

Thanks for all the questions, and look for the next Ask Mo in about two weeks!

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@Mo BBCA actually airs the eps of shows uncut if you watch "On-Demand"... at least all the shows on Verizon FiOS have the titlecard of "Director's Cut" that run about 46 minutes- for L&O:UK anyway.

November 09 2010 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mo wrote:

Having said that, I'm not sure what Syfy was supposed to have done, given 'Caprica's' abysmal ratings.

I reply:

The should have done what they've done in the past with an under-performing show... move it to a weekly late night timeslot! Even if the show aired at 1am or 3am, it would allow the hadcore fans to DVR each episode and watch them the next day (or stay up really late). SciFi/SyFy did this with "Charlie Jade" during its initial run in the summer of 2008. "Charlie Jade" began airing in the traditional Friday evening block, but after a few episodes, got pulled from Fridays but STILL AIRED at 3am every week to complete its run (I don't recall the night).

It's insulting to everyone who was watching "Caprica" that SyFy yanked it off the air instead of just scheduling it in late nights.

November 08 2010 at 4:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting questions and answers, so thanks Mo and those posting comments - it's why I like reading this blog.

I loved The Walking Dead premiere (but I'm already a fan of the graphic novels). I'm expecting this show to fill the hole left by Survivors UK in the post-apocalypse/rebuild civilization storytelling niche.

re-Ashes to Ashes - I didn't love season 1 overall, but season 2 really stepped up its game - it's worth watching.

Boardwalk Empire for me improved around episode 3 and now I'm hooked, though I still watch Dexter first on Sundays and catch this later in the week. My enjoyment of Boardwalk is inversely proportional to how much Jimmy is in the story. If they give most of the focus on the FBI agent, Nucky and Margaret, and generous Chalky bits, then I'll stay around.

Question - I got hooked on Vampire Diaries in season 1, after about episode 6. I'm curious Mo, if you have re-sampled it since watching the first rather poor first episodes. It's quite good solid entertainment now.

November 04 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

re: caprica.

i too though tthat caprica was turniing into a violent dud. what best to replace it?

wrasling of course!!!

November 03 2010 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to perryrants's comment
Craig Ranapia

Honestly, I probably be a little less bitter about 'Caprica' being cancelled if brain-dead dreck like 'SG:U' and 'Haven' weren't still on the roster.

Then again, noxious drivel like 'Outsourced' got a full season order, and much as I hate 'Two and A Half Men' a LOT of people keep begging to differ. What do I know? :)

November 03 2010 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would put The Inbetweeners on my top British tv shows list that and Top Gear are 2 of my favorite shows British or American.

Also, I agree with your comments on Chuck I would hate to have it end up like House or something where it should have ended 3 seasons ago and it seems like it could easy go that route.

November 03 2010 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As for British Shows I would go with Torchwood

November 03 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mo Ryan

Tunaman, I haven't seen Kingdom or Five Days or The Fixer, but the other shows you mention were very good. I'll have to judge A2A fully when it's done, but I found S1 that show to be lacking. Similarly LOM was inconsistent, though good at its best.

My list is my list, such as it is. I'm sure everyone from the UK will have a different list.

Mike, I wrote an extremely negative review of Caprica when it returned. Was that shilling for Syfy?

One thing that seems to be getting lost in this discussion of the show's cancellation is that, well, a lot of people didn't think Caprica was very good. More would have watched it, no matter what the scheduling issues were, if it was outstanding. In my view, it wasn't. And I'm not the only one. I'm truly sad for those who like the show a lot, but over the course of Caprica's first season, I heard from many former BSG fans who, like me, wanted this show to work and were ultimately disappointed ... More y LOM was inconsistent, though good at its best.

My list is my list, such as it is. I'm sure everyone from the UK will have a different list.

Mike, I wrote an extremely negative review of Caprica when it returned. Was that shilling for Syfy?

One thing that seems to be getting lost in this discussion of the show's cancellation is that, well, a lot of people didn't think Caprica was very good. More would have watched it, no matter what the scheduling issues were, if it was outstanding. In my view, it wasn't. And I'm not the only one. I'm truly sad for those who like the show a lot, but over the course of Caprica's first season, I heard from many former BSG fans or people who were new to that world who, like me, wanted this show to work and were ultimately disappointed by the story being told. And it simply didn't attract enough viewers who were new to the BSG mythology.

November 03 2010 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mo Ryan's comment
Craig Ranapia

@Mike: Look up Mo's extremely negative review of 'Stargate: Universe' when she was still at the Trib, and the rather nasty reaction it got. If she's "shilling" for SyFy, she really really sucks at it.

@Mo: I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on the merits of Caprica -- never mind. Isn't the first time we've had a difference of opinion, won't be the last. Long may it continue.

But there's something about "I heard from many former BSG fans who, like me, wanted this show to work and were ultimately disappointed ..." which sticks in my craw.

Of course, if 'Caprica' isn't your cup of ambrosia fair enough. I know plenty of people who thought BSG itself was a pretentious, depressing load of {insert favourite expletive here}. Ron Moore has been attacked as both a politically correct Hollyweird liberal and weirdo evangelical "God did it" apologist for genocidal military and theocratic dictatorship. Is BSG a deeply feminist work or just a pervy excuse to objectify Tricia Helfer? Take your pick.

And I'm not going to stand here and pretend 'Caprica' is flawless -- just as (just between us) there's a lot about the first season of BSG that bugs the frak out of me. Really think they over-played Baltar as comic relief (and a little Head-Six sex goes a very looong way), and didn't get the tonal balance right for a long time. And on re-watch, I'm kind of surprised how meh-some I found Grace Park's performance (not a good thing when she was at the centre of two major season arcs) as she hit a whole other level in season two. I could go on, but you get my point.

But I found it increasingly frustrating how -- in a genre-specific version of Godwin's Law -- every damn on-line discussion of 'Caprica' turned into re-litigating 'Daybreak' one more time. FFS, I HATED the final shot of 'The Sopranos' and want to sue Martin Scorsese for the hours of my life wasted on dreck like 'Shutter Island' & 'The Departed'. Don't feel the urge to bring it to every thread on 'Mad Men' and 'Boardwalk Empire'.

November 03 2010 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rex from Ars

Seriously...no "Life on Mars" or "Ashes to Ashes" on your list of best Brit TV shows? No "Kingdom" or "Spooks" or "Cracker" or "The Fixer" or "Five Days"?? Your list of five shows has three which were made before 1995; they've made new shows in the UK since then.

And I think you're badly mistaken about few Americans being "aware that U.K. programs are cut to fit U.S. running times". That's actually the number one complaint I hear from people who watch BBCA. I even wonder if BBCA isn't shooting themselves in the foot with this policy. Most everyone I know under the age of 40 that has an interest in British TV will either download the shows illegally or order them on DVD, because they don't want to wait six months (or more, or ever) for BBCA to air their hacked-up versions.

FWIW, most Americans I know think that there are no commercials AT ALL on British television. Most seem disappointed when they find that every network aside from the Beeb has PLENTY of ads.

November 03 2010 at 2:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I forgot to mention Yes Minister as one of the all-time great British comedies as well. It wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny, but probably shifted the views of an entire generation about how government really worked. It's gotta be one of the best satire's ever, and the more so because it's seen as so mainstream now (but given the US has a very different parliamentary system, maybe less identifiable across the pond).

November 02 2010 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for answering my acting question! As I thought about it, I realised that hiring experienced, known-quantity good employees is what most employers do where possible, because there is less risk involved. I only really notice because it sends me into a "I'm watching too much TV!" spiral when I can recognise a guest star from two or three shows!

For my money, tying with the Office as the best British comedy ever was the 1950s Hancock's Half Hour - and that is competing with Red Dwarf and Blackadder at its best. (Thrilled for the inclusion of Brideshead Revisited - one of the greatest TV programmes ever)

Thanks for doing this, it's really interesting. I have questions I'll save for the next installment.

November 02 2010 at 11:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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